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Marriage And Money: The Mistress or the Missionary?

Money is one of those topics that could easily be added to the list of what not to talk about at the dinner table, along with politics, sex, and religion. It can be a complicated topic with emotions driving every thought and statement. Money impacts our lives and can bring relief or cause grief within seconds. There’s a Proverb that says, “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of God.’

Most of us have experienced both of these states at various times in our lives. The question is, who are we, whether our bank account is comfy or its status is meager? When I was one, my mom became a single-mother and raised me along with my three older brothers. We hopped around from house to house, city to city and country to country for the first five years of my life. When we finally settled down in a town where I would eventually grow to be a lanky teen and stubborn young-adult, I was well-acquainted with the phrase “we can’t afford that.” Those words often did not agree with a teen girl that wanted to fit-in but I also knew they were facts and not a matter of opinion.

By the time I finished high school, I was faced with another reality I had to move out and figure life out on my own. Money was even more scarce. It’s more like I had some “mo” and still needed some “ney” to survive. Those experiences early on, absolutely impacted and shaped my interpretation of money. I have often battled with the ideology of scarcity especially when it comes to money and those fears seeped into my marriage. My husband, Daniel, was raised with a few more nickels to rub together but not much more. This combo made for two young twenty-somethings who were wide-eyed looking at our financial future with anxiety. Through our journey with money, we have found that money can either become a mistress or help to drive our mission.

When Money Is a Mistress

Money can quickly become a fixation when we believe it is the end goal to our happiness and success. It eventually controls us if we allow money to interpret and determine our contentment. Some signs money has become a mistress are that we adapt a mistress philosophy: money is to be hoarded for MY security and MY safety or money is to be spent for MY pleasure and MY entitlement. Even if both partners share the same view of money, with a mistress philosophy, a mindset of mine and yours is established.

  • Couples may decide to get separate bank accounts.

  • Big purchases are bullied into being purchased, necessary ones are avoided or purchases are hidden.

  • One spouse’s voice tends to be the loudest in terms of how, when and for what reason spending or hoarding money is valid, and their opinion is the final say.

  • Money isn’t a means to create short-term and long-term mutual goals, instead decisions are impulsively made as soon as money rolls in or out.

  • We turn to blaming and complaining instead of teaming up, money separates the marriage rather than strengthening it.

When Money Drives Our Mission

For the first five years of our marriage, money was somewhat a neglected focus simply because we didn’t have much, so making financial goals seemed more like a sarcastic joke than a reality. Once we started making a little more money after we graduated college, we began to ask necessary and even exciting questions. We reflected on our mindset around money that began in our childhood, and we looked at our emotions around money and our expectations. As we began to see how money can drive our mission, we started with three essential truths:

  1. We are a team and money is ours and not his or hers

  2. We wanted money to work for us and not control us

  3. We wanted our ultimate goal for money to be one of giving and blessing

Once these truths were realized, we know that when we have decisions to make around money, it must align with all three truths. Our third truth doesn’t mean that every financial decision has to have an added element of giving money away, but when we are deciding which financial decisions to make, we know it cannot compromise our third goal. It’s an easy temptation to justify decisions that contribute to a mindset where money is for my gain, which is why our third goal really represents our desire to keep money in its rightful place; one focused on giving, not getting.

A little over a decade into our marriage, we were tired of the debt that we had accrued through student loans holding us back. Even though we honestly only had $50 extra at the end of the month after bills and expenses, we decided to take back control of where our money was going. We began a baby-step program that re-aligned our finances by addressing our current needs and planning for our future. Using a debt snowball strategy, it took eighteen months to pay off $42K. Once we shouted out that debt-free scream we were excited to plan for our future, where money began to be a partner to reaching our goals rather than a mistress of scarcity causing us to dismiss our goals.

To come full circle, money isn’t the easiest topic to discuss especially if tensions are already tight in our marriage or defensiveness, blame or criticism is present. Establishing those truths and assessing whether your actions match your goals is one of the first steps to re-align our philosophy around money. If you’re finding that you keep having the same arguments, you may want to invite an impartial third-party like a pastor, counselor or wise friend into the discussion. Money has a sneaky way of shedding light on our biggest fears and insecurities, but if we first focus on the truth that you are a team and want the best for each other, then money doesn’t have to be a threat, but instead can be a thread that strengthens your marriage and your financial future together.


How to make money help our mission:

What truths fit with how money can help drive your mission?

What’s getting in the way of furthering your mission?

Do our goals match our spending habits?

Are we having regular conversations around money? (our plans for it, any concerns about it or upcoming needs, wants or dreams?)

Are we currently financially wise (ex., creating a budget, establishing an emergency fund, paying off debt) and planning for our future?

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